THE SIGNS OF THE END
Prophecy Studies - No. 5
The signs of the end are described in the Bible, but not the date! There are some teachers of the prophetic Scriptures who insist on trying to set the date of Christ’s return, in spite of Jesus’ words that “you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matt. 25:13), and “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Often all this does is bring discredit to the cause of Christ. Date-setters have thus far been proven wrong, and it has led the uniformed to conclude that the Bible itself must therefore be wrong.
We need to take the words of Moses to heart: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). So, regarding the subject of Christ’s return, what are “those things which are revealed”? Are there some specific signs that the end is approaching, even if we cannot pin down a precise date? That will be the subject of this study. Home base will be Chapter 24 of Matthew--though we shall compare some other Scriptures along the way.
Matthew 24 and 25 has been called the “Olivet Discourse,” based on the fact that Jesus delivered the teaching on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24:3). In His discourse, Jesus mentions a number of key signs--war, famine, earthquakes, and so on. Depending on exactly how these are divided, the precise number of signs may vary slightly, but we shall identify ten of them.
1) What brought grief to the heart of Jesus, in Matthew 23:37?
INSIGHT: When He cleansed the temple of the corrupt trade that was taking place there, Jesus said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ (Matt. 21:13--quoting a statement made by Jehovah God in Isaiah 56:7).
2) Given that the temple was intended to be the house of God, do you see any significance to how Christ refers to it in Matthew 23:38?
2b) Under what conditions could this be said of a church building, today?
3) Where were Jesus and His disciples as the discussion of Matthew 24 began (vs. 1)?
4) What prediction did Jesus make at this time (vs. 2)?
5) As they reach the Mount of Olives, what two questions do the disciples ask the Lord (vs. 3)?
INSIGHT: The first concern of Christ’s followers has to do with the destruction of their beautiful temple (a devastation which, unknown to them, would occur in 70 A.D.). This in turn led them to wonder how this terrible event would fit in with all the great Old Testament promises to Israel, promises of peace and prosperity in their land, under Messiah’s rule. The disciples had no awareness that (as of now) about 2,000 years would separate those two events.
6) According to Matthew 24:29-30 (see especially the end of vs. 30) what is the great event preceded by the signs mentioned earlier in the chapter?
INSIGHT: This is the important key to understanding the Olivet Discourse. Namely, that it concerns Christ’s second coming to the earth in power and glory, to reign as Israel’s Messiah. It is not about the church, or the rapture of the church. What precipitates the discussion is some questions raised by Jesus’ Jewish disciples relating to the future of their nation. That Jesus has the Jews in mind, as He answers, is clear from vs. 20, where He warns that the Old Testament Sabbath law might restrict their flight from the enemy.
Thus the signs described by Jesus are not signs that must precede the coming rapture of the church. (This is to be an at-any-moment event, not announced by signs.) The signs point rather to Christ’s return with His saints to reign.
That does not mean, however, that they have nothing to do with us, as Christians. The signs will not likely appear all of a sudden. There will be a build-up of these things. And if the signs point to Christ’s return to the earth, and if the rapture must occur at least seven years before that event, we have every reason to believe that the rapture of the church is close indeed! This anticipation should give us both comfort and joy.
Notice vs. 8. The signs mentioned in vs. 5-7 are called “the beginning of sorrows”--literally, the beginning of birth pains, or labour pains. The imagery is quite suggestive. It implies that the signs will come closer together and be more intense as the end nears. Then...
7) In the mini-parable of vs. 32-33, how did the Jews know when the summer season was about to begin?
8) And how would they know when “it” (Christ’s coming) is near (vs. 33)?
INSIGHT: “When you see all these things...” meaning when all the signs coming together. There have always been wars, and many of the other things mentioned. But when “it is near” (or it could be rendered when “He is near”) all of the various signs will occur at once with maximum intensity. Also, the ninth sign, below, seems to require that Israel be able to act as a national entity once more (to rebuild her temple in Jerusalem). Until 1948, this possibility did not exist.
9) What is the FIRST SIGN that the end is approaching (vs. 4-5)?
10) What will convince many to follow these counterfeits (vs. 11, 24)?
10b) What do you see going on today that might relate to this?
INSIGHT: These men (or women) will represent false and heretical religions which will also be on the rise. And the appearance of false messiahs and prophets will be accompanied by increased demonic activity (I Tim. 4:1).
11) What is the SECOND SIGN of the end (vs. 6-7a; or see Rev. 6:2-4)?
INSIGHT: No imagination is necessary to see the intensifying of international conflict, terrorist attacks, and the threat of war in our day!
12) What is the THIRD SIGN (vs. 7; or see Rev. 6:5-6)?
INSIGHT: Given the steadily increasing world population (now at about 6 billion), and unusual weather patterns bringing drought and poor crop yields, we could be seeing the approach of unprecedented shortages. Revelation 6:6 describes a time during the Tribulation when a quart of wheat (enough for a day’s use), will cost a denarius (a day’s wages).
INSIGHT: The FOURTH SIGN in Matthew 24:7 is omitted by some Bible versions. It is “pestilences” (NKJV, or see the parallel passage, Lk. 21:11). This has to do with plagues and widespread disease. The immoral lifestyle of many has made AIDS a worldwide epidemic. (British disease expert, Dr. John Seale, calls it the “biological equivalent of nuclear war.”) Further, new strains of infectious diseases are developing which are resistant to current antibiotics. Scourges like smallpox and cholera could soon make a comeback.
13) What is the FIFTH SIGN described by Jesus (vs. 7; or see Rev. 6:12)?
INSIGHT: Natural disasters such as earthquakes do seem to be on the rise. Also, because of the increase in the world’s population, and the concentration of people in large cities, quakes can now have a more devastating effect in terms of loss of life.
14) What is the SIXTH sign of the approaching end (vs. 9-10)?
INSIGHT: If the teaching of Jesus refers to the seven-year Tribulation, after the church has been caught up, these sufferers are believers of that time, and especially Jews. (Jeremiah calls it “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” Jer. 30:5-7.) Yes, we can expect Christians to suffer more opposition before Christ comes for His church (II Tim. 3:12-13), but it will be nothing like the deadly worldwide attack in that time upon any who do not bear the mark of the beast (Rev, 13:16-17).
15) How does vs. 21 indicate the intensity of persecution against believers in that time (or compare Dan. 12:1)?
16) And what does vs. 22 add to our understanding of how severe it will be?
INSIGHT: Since the period of “great tribulation,” the last half of the seven years, is repeatedly described as lasting precisely 42 months (lunar months of 30 days each), or 1,260 days (Rev. 11:2-3), the “shortening” does not seem to mean the three and a half year time period will be cut short. Commentator William MacDonald suggests the intriguing idea that perhaps the daylight hours will be shortened, making it more difficult to hunt down believers.
INSIGHT: The promise of vs. 13 that “he who endures to the end shall be saved” should be understood in its context. Rather than speaking of eternal salvation, Jesus is saying that those who are faithful to Him during the Tribulation will be physically rescued and delivered from death by His glorious return. This interpretation is supported by vs. 22 when it says “unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved” (“flesh” being a reference to the physical body, as in the expression “the Word was made flesh,” Jn. 1:14).
In vs. 34, Jesus promises, “This generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” He cannot be referring to those who were listening to Him at the time, since we know the events of Matthew 24, including His glorious return, have yet to occur. “Generation” translates the Greek word genea. It can also mean race, or family. It is possible the Lord is referring to Israel as a nation, saying that the Jewish nation as a whole would not be utterly destroyed by the terrible events He has described. The other possibility is that He means the generation of Jews alive at the time these events occur will not be utterly destroyed.
17) What is the SEVENTH SIGN of the end--two characteristics--(vs. 12)?
INSIGHT: The love that grows cold could be a love for the Lord, but it is not qualified in that way. Perhaps it is just a reference to human love--real love--being on the decline. Paul predicts that in the last days men will be lovers of themselves (proud), lovers of money (greedy), and lovers of pleasure (lustful), but that in fact they will be “unloving” in the best sense of the word (II Tim. 3:1-5).
18) How do the two negative characteristics of vs. 12 fit together? And what do you see happening today that relates to this?
INSIGHT: Jesus compares the attitudes of people in the Tribulation to those that existed in the days of Noah (vs. 37-39).
19) How are these pre-flood days described in Genesis 6:5, 11? Is this already evident in our own time?
20) What is the EIGHTH SIGN to precede the return of Christ (vs. 14)?
INSIGHT: Though they are closely related, the “gospel of the kingdom” is not precisely the same as the gospel of grace proclaimed in the Church Age. (It is more a difference in focus, than an entirely different message.) The gospel we share today is the good news that “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:1, 3). The gospel of the kingdom includes this, but emphasizes the good news that Christ will soon return to set up His kingdom (compare Matt. 25:31, 34). This will be an especially welcome message to those enduring the Tribulation.
INSIGHT: It is possible the 144,000 Jews who are sealed and protected then will be the “missionaries” carrying this message across the world (Rev. 7:3-14). They will be hugely successful in this, since “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues” (vs. 14) will “come out of the great tribulation [having] washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (vs. 14). While this outreach is to take place after the church is caught up, perhaps the technology of today (computers, satellites, etc.) is preparing the way for it.
21) What is the NINTH SIGN that the end is approaching (vs. 15)?
INSIGHT: “The abomination of desolation” (the abomination that brings the final desolating judgments of the Tribulation) was predicted by Daniel to occur at the mid-point of the seventieth “week” of his 490 year prophecy (Dan. 9:27). Jesus says the abomination will be found standing in “the holy place,” referring to the sanctuary, in the temple. Putting the various references to this together, it appears that the Antichrist, will make a seven-year covenant with the Jews, allowing them freedom of worship in their own temple in Jerusalem. Then, after three and a half years, he will break his covenant (Dan. 9:27), enter the temple and demand that he himself be worshiped (II Thess. 2:3-4). An image of the Antichrist will be erected (perhaps in the temple as well) and all will be commanded to worship it or be killed (Rev. 13:14-15).
INSIGHT: This will require the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which could occur during the first three and a half years of relative peace, when Israel is under the protection of the Antichrist. Or it might happen in a brief interval of time between the rapture and the start of the Tribulation. (There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that the seven years must start immediately after the church is caught away.) Even today Israel is hungering to have her temple again and the Jews are collecting the funds necessary to do it.
A Muslim mosque now stands on the temple mount. It was once thought that this mosque would have to be destroyed in order for the temple to be built. But some have calculated that this would not be necessary. Ancient texts suggest that Solomon’s temple was built in an open area north of the mosque. This means the mosque actually stands in that part of the wider temple area known as “the court of the Gentiles.” Possibly the Antichrist will try to settle the present conflict by allowing both Moslems and Jews access to their own place of worship on the mount.
22) Immediately preceding the coming of Christ “with power and great glory” (vs. 30-31) what will the TENTH SIGN be (vs. 29)?
INSIGHT: Compare: Isa. 13:9-10; Ezek. 32:6-8; Amos 8:9; Rev. 6:12-13; 8:12, etc. Common to all these passages is a prediction of coming darkness. But as Christians we shall be delivered from that day. The darkness of God’s wrath was borne by Christ, on the cross for us (Matt. 27:45), and we will miss this time of earthly judgment. “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 5:9). Instead, we “wait for His Son from heaven...who delivers us from the wrath to come” (I Thess. 1:10). Not wrath, but rapture! We look expectantly for Christ, not for the Antichrist!
This prophecy was discussed in an earlier lesson. But because of its importance, a summary note is given here. Properly understood, the prophecy of Daniel’s “Seventy Weeks” provides an outline of major events in Israel’s history–especially concerning the city of Jerusalem, all the way from the time of Nehemiah to the second coming of Christ. The prophecy covers 70 heptads, 70 “7's” of years, or 490 years, with the exclusion of the Church Age which was invisible to the Old Testament Prophets and is passed over in silence. To understand the passage, keep in mind that “Messiah the Prince” and “the prince who is to come” (the Antichrist) are two different people. The key events are as follows:
1) The decree is issued byf Artaxerxes in 445 BC, allowing the Jews to “restore and build Jerusalem” (Dan. 9: 25a; cf. Neh. 2:5-8), and the rebuilding completed “in troublesome times,” which Nehemiah certainly experienced (Dan. 9:25b)
2) Christ (“Messiah the Prince”) presents Himself to Israel as King at His Triumphal Entry (cf. Zech. 9:9) but He is rejected and crucified (“Messiah shall be cut off,” Dan. 9:26a)
3) The people of the prince who is to come (the Romans) “destroy the city and the sanctuary” in 70 AD (Dan. 9:26b)
[THE CHURCH AGE in which we now live ending with the rapture]
4) The “prince” (the Antichrist) makes a covenant with Israel, perhaps allowing the rebuilding of their temple (Dan. 9:27a). This begins the seven-year earthly Tribulation of Bible prophecy.
5) The Antichrist stops regular sacrifices and desecrates the temple (“the abomination of desolation” referred to by Jesus), after three and a half years (Dan. 9:27b; cf. Matt. 24:15-16)
6) Destruction is poured out on the Antichrist and his followers at the second coming of Christ (Armageddon) (Dan. 9:27c)
7) The fulfilment of the blessings promised to Israel in the Millennial Kingdom (Dan. 9:24). “To anoint the Most Holy” could refer to the crowning of Messiah as King (the Most Holy One), or to the consecration of the new Millennial Temple (the Most Holy Place) described by Ezekiel (Ezek. 40–47).